Basquiat, Beyoncé, and the Art of Commodification

Two essays written by bell hooks over an almost 20 year span, “Alters of Sacrifice: Re-membering Basquiat” and “Moving Beyond Pain”, share similar qualities in how they are formatted and thoughtfully worded, but what sticks out to me in both essays is the focus on both these artists work as a “commodity” created to be enjoyed by a large group of people and to create revenue. Hooks defines commodities as “irrespective of their subject matter, [they] are made, produced, and marketed to entice any and all consumers.” While Basquiat and Beyoncé both assumedly made art for their own sake, it played a bigger role in their lives that simply being a piece of work to be proud of.

For Beyoncé, one of the big goals in her business is to make money, so being able to appeal to many different groups of people and cultures is central to her success. Even something like Lemonade, which has been argued to have been created for the black female, has to have some element of allure for the rest of the world in order to create money. For Lemonade, the commodity being presented is the black female body, though its traditional representation is being challenged in the visual album to create a new meaning.

Basquiat, on the other hand, wasn’t as interested in creating art for money as he was in creating art in order to be considered an equal of the “great contemporary artists” (all white males). “He choose to make his work a space where that process of commodification is critiqued, particularly, as it pertains to the black body and soul. One could argue that Basquiat didn’t necessarily create art for himself, but created art as a way to attract the attention of the “great” Modern and Contemporary artists and the general public to issues of blackness. However, his art often acted as a wall between him and “the greats”, because Basquiat refused to make his works understandable when looking through a Eurocentric lens. A piece such as Obnoxious Liberals (1982) is an example of how he put a wall between himself and the public (generally white audience members when displayed in museums) by choosing a subject that the public could not relate to and thus was lost on them.


Ellee Banaszak, Hope College, Class of 2017


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